Will the future be bright – or will it be orange? These are the key times for the American election results for those watching in the UK.
Britons have got used to waking up the morning after the US elections and knowing right away whether to happily spring out of bed for the TV remote or groan and pull the covers back over their eyes. The last three elections have been all over by breakfast time in the UK, and in 2004 – though he didn’t admit it until much later in the day – we all knew John Kerry was toast while we were eating ours.
This convenient timing is helped by the early district-by-district tallies that emerge even when voting has yet to close, and still further by the fact that unlike our 10pm deadlines, polls have closed in 40 of the 50 states, plus Washington DC, by 9pm Eastern Standard Time. But this time, that’s where the good news ends.
Though national and state polls point to a convincing Joe Biden win, complications arising from early voting by post and in-person mean even that scenario may not be confirmed until much later than normal. More than 70 million Americans have voted early – there were 130 million total votes in 2016 – but while some states will count early votes before on-the-day polling even opens, others won’t start until it closes completely. Some will give the results of early voting first, some will do it last. Some swing states – the key marginals – allow ballots to arrive late, most notably Ohio (by November 13, 10 days after the election).
All this is fertile ground for cock-ups – in 2000, TV networks called Florida for Al Gore around 1am UK time on election night; the crucial state and the presidency were eventually confirmed to have been won by George Bush five weeks later – as well as Trumpian conspiracy theories about stolen votes and rigged wins.
With eight days to go, the president was tweeting about non-existent “big problems and discrepancies with mail-in ballots all over the USA” and the need to “have (a) final total on November 3rd”.
The twin threats of mistakes and dangerous misinformation look certain to make US pollsters even more queasy about racing to predict who has captured key states and the White House itself. Here is what to watch for through the night and the next day…
11pm UK (6pm EST in the USA) ITV’s optimistically-titled election night coverage Trump Vs Biden: The Results begins, with Tom Bradby hosting. But even projected results are over an hour away…
11.30pm UK (6.30pm EST) The BBC’s election night programming starts, with Katty Kay and Andrew Neil on BBC One, the BBC News Channel and the iPlayer.
Midnight UK (7pm EST) Polls close in swing state Georgia (with 16 votes in the electoral college; 270 are needed to win), South Carolina (leaning Trump in recent polls), Virginia and Vermont (both solid Biden). We’d normally start seeing the US networks ‘call’ the projected winners of states from now on, but this time they might hold back because of the postal voting factor.
12.30am UK (7.30pm EST) Polls close in Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, all solid Trump states. More interesting are North Carolina (15 votes, Republican in 2012 and 2016 but leaning Biden and tipped to produce a result fairly quickly because the state has okayed early counting) and bellwether state Ohio (18 votes, not picked a loser in a presidential election since 1960, slightly leaning Trump).
1am UK (8pm EST) Polls close in the Republican strongholds of Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, while Biden will be confident of taking Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois (20 votes), Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Washington DC, as well as a share of Maine, which splits its electoral college votes. The big prizes which also close now are both leaning to Biden. Florida is worth 29 votes and we could get a quickish call because of early counting. Pennsylvania is a must-win for Biden and worth 20 votes, but there’s no early counting and it may turn out to be the one we’re all waiting for at the end of the night…
1.30am UK (8.30pm EST) The polls close in Arkansas – once Clinton country; now solid Trump. But more exciting things are coming…
2am UK (9pm EST) Polling is over in Kansas, Louisiana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming, all Trump bastions. Nebraska closes too and splits its votes, but they will all go to Trump. No more voting in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New York (29 votes), New Mexico and Wisconsin, which should all be Biden’s. The ones to watch are Arziona (leaning Biden) and Texas (a massive 38 votes and has seen huge early voting, but Biden’s final debate talk of phasing out oil may have cost him any slender chance of an upset). In a normal election, you’d expect the noise around Ohio and Florida to be increasing around now… but this is not a normal election.
3am UK (10pm EST) That’s it for voting in the swing state of Iowa, which normally goes Democrat but which Trump won bigly last time. He holds a slight edge now. Montana and Utah are almost certain Trump wins too, but Biden has big hopes for Nevada, which has picked the winner in nine of the last 10 elections.
4am UK (11pm EST) It’s over in California, with its huge 55 votes, Oregon, Washington (all solid Biden) and Idaho (solid Trump). In a cut-and-dried race, this is when you would expect the US networks to start calling the final result, as happened with Barack Obama in 2008.
5am UK (Midnight EST) No more voting in Hawaii, which will be declared for Biden soon afterwards.
6am UK (1am EST) Polls close in Trump stronghold Alaska and voting in the 2020 US election is over. By 6.30am last time out it was clear that he would win the presidency. Meanwhile, ITV’s election coverage ends and is replaced by recovering Trump fan Piers Morgan and Good Morning Britain.
1pm UK (8am EST) The BBC’s coverage finally ends – a mammoth effort but possibly wise. It took John Kerry until 4pm UK time to concede in 2004.
December 14 The date when Electoral College voters meet to ratify the result. Not tempting fate, but it took until December 12 for George W Bush to be declared president-elect in 2000.
January 20, 2021 The new president is inaugurated. Will the future be bright? Or will it be orange?